George McPhee has been hired as general manager of the NHL’s expansion Las Vegas franchise.
Owner Bill Foley announced McPhee as the franchise’s first GM at a news conference Wednesday afternoon in Las Vegas.
McPhee will be in charge of building the team from scratch to begin play in the 2017-18 NHL season.
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McPhee most recently served as special adviser to New York Islanders GM Garth Snow. Before that he spent 16 seasons as GM of the Washington Capitals.
As the Capitals’ GM, McPhee oversaw a complete rebuild around star winger Alex Ovechkin that led to the team making six consecutive playoff appearances before he was fired in 2014.
”He took Washington from being a team that was scrambling and sort of turned it around, so I think that experience will be a big plus,” said Doug MacLean, who was the Columbus Blue Jackets’ GM when they entered the league in 2000. ”I think it’s a real good fit.”
McPhee has a strong history of drafting and developing players, and his extensive NHL experience earned him the position over younger candidates. Foley said McPhee was one of seven candidates who interviewed for the job.
Before taking over the Capitals, McPhee was vice president and director of hockey operations for the Vancouver Canucks, who made the Stanley Cup Final in 1994.
The 58-year-old from Guelph, Ontario, helped construct back-to-back gold-medal winners for Canada at the past two world hockey championships. Brad Treliving, his co-GM at the 2016 worlds and GM of the Calgary Flames, selfishly would have liked to see McPhee working outside the Pacific Division and the Western Conference.
”I was hoping maybe George could go back to the East, just take the team and move it to the East,” Treliving said by phone Wednesday. ”You’re really happy for him. Then you take a deep breath and go, `Oh great, another excellent manager that you’re competing against.’ But that’s the game, everybody’s good.”
McPhee’s duties with the Islanders included scouting, which will be one of his primary jobs next season in preparation for the launch of the still-unnamed Las Vegas franchise.
The NHL’s board of governors unanimously approved the expansion team for a fee of $500 million during its meeting in Las Vegas in late June. The team can begin making transactions in June 2017, and it will also take part in an expansion draft that month.
MacLean, who was hamstrung by various factors including a second team in the Minnesota Wild during the 2000 expansion process, expects McPhee to have it a bit easier based on the NHL forcing stricter rules on how many players can be protected.
”He’s going to get a head start versus other expansion teams because of the new rules,” MacLean said. ”It’s going to be an interesting challenge because it’s different from any other expansion in the past because he’s got the (salary) cap where he’s got to spend a certain amount of money. He’s got to spend a certain amount and he’s got to stay away from as many bad contracts as he can but try to pick up some talent along the way.”